(photo: Andrea Shettler)

October 15, 2014
by Bryne Yancey

Tunnel vision can kill originality and innovation in pretty much every walk of life. It’s easy to get caught up in the safety and familiarity of routine, of existing inside a box, of leaving well enough alone. We’re all so distracted nowadays that often, well enough is the best we can do. Well enough is the new status quo. All anyone really wants is a thing that looks, sounds, feels, smells, or tastes like a thing we already like.

This is also true to a degree when it comes to some bands and their influences, especially in the last 15 years or so. Bad Religion, for example, had to have been influenced by a myriad of bands due to timing, education, and other factors. They didn’t sound like Black Flag, or the Clash, or the Sex Pistols, or Ramones, but a lot of the ideas portrayed by those bands informed what they did and still do. Then Bad Religion deservedly built a huge fanbase and wielded great influence on the next wave of punk bands—the problem was, those bands were primarily influenced by Bad Religion and uh, little else it appeared. The end result, more often than not, rang pretty hollow. It still does.

But then there are bands like Neighborhood Brats, who feel familiar and exciting all at the same time, and it’s easy to remember that while what’s old is new, what’s old doesn’t necessarily have to feel old. Their new album Recovery, out now via the consistently wonderful Deranged Records, feels vibrantly kinetic: the guitar work of George Rager in particular—an appropriate name for a member of this band if there ever was one—twists, bends, and distorts, yet is never above a nicely, calculated, oddly catchy melody. His riffs occasionally have the unpredictable perniciousness of Greg Ginn—an easy comparison made on “Year of the Brat”—but more often than not, he’s channeling East Bay Ray’s knack for taking surfy riffs and giving them much-needed teeth (see the heavy “Suburbia” and the much faster, pointier “Escape the City”). Make no mistake about it, though: He’s a virtuoso on his own accord, lifting said riffs from no one.

Meanwhile, vocalist Jenny Angelillo, who has a reputation for powering Neighborhood Brats’ chaotic live performances through gauche onstage movements, is a steadily sneering presence. She can easily carry a tightly-wound vocal melody, such as on “We Lost Control,” but seamlessly elevates her voice to an incensed scream, such as on “50 Shades of Fuck You.” As the song’s tempo slows, her voice expertly goes along with it, such as on the surprisingly breezy “Painted and Gutted.” Bassist Dan Graziano is impressively all over the fretboard on songs like “Heavy Breathing Heart -Party in my Brain”; drummer Mike Shelbourn appears to be, like his band mates, able to navigate from style to style without losing his own. Everyone involved is well, really good at what they do, and no lazily constructed “female-fronted Ramones/Black Flag/whatever” qualifier would ever do their talent justice.

Recovery has the sound and feel of a 1980s L.A. punk record, the kind smelly, sun-bleached blonde kids listened to while skating in their old neighbor’s abandoned pool. But with this style of punk, other than the very good Night Birds, having mostly been rendered all but extinct in favor of mid-paced, elementary suppy pop-punk and bloated, creatively vacant post-hardcore, it feels refreshingly modern, too.

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